Shamakhi, located only 130 km away from Baku, is one of the most ancient and interesting settlements in Azerbaijan. It was established around the 5th century, and from the 9th till the 16th centuries the city was the capital of Shirvan, a historical region in the eastern Caucasus, and the residence of the Shirvan Dynasty. In the 18th Century the city was the center of the Shamakhi khanate. In addition, thanks to its location on the Silk Road, Shamakhi was also one of the largest centers of commerce and crafts in the Near East. The city is full of interesting monuments including the Gulistan fortress, the mausoleum of Addy-Gyumbez and Juma Mosque.
Even if you have only a couple of days in the country, try to reserve a few hours for a trip to the Gobustan National Park located about 60km away from Baku. Apart from the prehistoric rock engravings, tha park has to offer as well dramatic landscape of the southeast end of the Big Caucasian Ridge carved with numerous ravines and covered with very scarce vegetation. Also, make sure you don’t miss the mud volcanoes. Although they are not unique to Azerbaijan, the country has the highest number of mud volcanoes in the world.
Sheki is arguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Azerbaijan and not undeservedly so. Among its most famous buildings visitors will find the stunning Palace of Sheki Khan that was built without the use of glue or nails. The uniqueness of the building was appreciated by UNESCO. To learn more about the city click here: http://silkwaytravelblog.com/2013/07/22/sheki-the-land-of-culture-and-pahlava/
Sheki, the Palace of Sheki Khan
The Lankaran region is quite different to other parts of Azerbaijan. Located between the Caspian Sea and the Talysh mountains, and just a few kilometers away from the border with Iran, Lankaran offers not only beautiful nature and wonderful landscapes but also cultural richness and diversity. Thanks to its humid sub-tropical climate the region is also one of the main tea growers in the country.
Gabala is a very popular weekend break destination among Azerbaijanis. Gabala is famous not only for its wonderful nature but also for its historical value – its administrative center, the town of Gabala, used to be the capital of Caucasian Albania, an ancient predominantly Christian state that occupied the area between the 2nd and 8th centuries.
Goygol National Park. The park was established in 2008 to protect the natural ecosystem of the subalpine zones of the northern slopes of the Lesser Caucasus. The surface area of the park is 127.55 km2 large and it’s almost entirely covered by forest. It includes as well Lake Goygol, one of the most beautiful and cleanest lakes in Azerbaijan. For more information about the park visit the website of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Khinalig. The best way to explain why Khinalig is so special will be to include here the quote of Rena Effendi, an award-winning Azerbaijani photographer:”Khinaliq, because of its remoteness, has still managed to preserve its ancient way of life. There is no running water but the stream nearby, no gas except the natural fires sprouting from the gas-pocked mountains. The light-skinned and blue-eyed race speaks Khinaliq, a unique and dying out language attributed to the northeastern group of Caucasus languages. The only source of income is sheep breeding – husbands graze their flocks in mountain pastures, women weave traditional carpet designs from wool at home. There are little over 1000 shepherd families living in Khinaliq at an elevation of over 2300 meters above the sea. Before 2006, the village was inaccessible for nine months out of the year”. Because of the location, it’s best to visit Khinaliq in the summer time when the weather is at its best. For more click here: http://blog.instituteartistmanagement.com/posts/2010/04/rena-effendi-khinaliq-village-published-in-the-sunday-times-magazine.html
Visit the Old Town (Icheri Sheher ). Baku’s Old Town is a city within the city. Entering Icheri Sheher feels like stepping into another world. It hasn’t been spoilt by the Baku’s latest architectonic revolution and it’s a great place to start the journey of discovery of the city and its history. Pictured: The Maiden Tower
The origins of the old city reach as far back as the 11-12th century and it had stayed almost untouched till the first oil boom in Azerbaijan. Pictured: The Palace of the Shirvanshahs
In 1865, a part of the city walls overlooking the sea was demolished, and the stones were sold and used in the building of the Outer city. The money obtained from this sale went into the construction of the Baku Boulevard. In this time the architecture of the Inner city changed too – many european buildings were constructed using such styles as baroque and gothic.
Check out the National Museum of History of Azerbaijan. If you only have enough time to see one museum in Baku, make it Taghiyev’s House. The museum will not only help you learn more about the country’s past but is also remarkable for its rich architecture. It used to be a private mansion of the oil magnate and philantropist, Zaynalabdin Taghiyev, but was confiscated from him together with other posessions by the Bolsheviks in 1920.
Tagiyev’s family at the mansion in early 20th Century.
Try local food
Visit Martyrs’ Lane & the Alley of Honor. It is a cemetery and memorial dedicated to those killed by the Soviet Army during January Massacre in 1990 and later to those murdered in Nagorno-Karabakh War. Approximately 15,000 people are buried in this cemetery situated on the hill overlooking Baku Bay. Apart from the graves and stunning sea views there are also: Eternal Flame memorial, Martyrs’ Mosque and a monument in memory of 1,130 Turkish soldiers that died in the Battle of Baku in 1918, and a small wall acknowledging the British soldiers who died in the same battle. Picture copied from AZ Magazine.
Have a look at the Heydar Aliyev’s Cultural Center. The center is one of architectonic gems of Baku designed by British-Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid. It houses a conference hall (auditorium), a gallery hall and a museum.
The center hosts as well a collection of limousines used by the late leader of the country, Heydar Aliyev, throughout his presidency.
Have a walk on Targova Street (Shopping Street). A large choice of shops and no car traffic makes it one of the best places for shopping in Baku. The history of the street goes back to Baku town planning project in 1864. Targova Street is only a short part of the longer Nizami Street that stretches for about 3,5km.
See a performance at the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. According to an urban legend, in 1910, famous Russian soprano Antonina Nezhdanova visited Baku giving several concerts at various clubs and performance venues. At the end of her stay she was asked whether she would like to visit Baku again, to which she said ”no” and added that in a city of so many wealthy people no one would fund the construction of a decent opera theatre. Daniel Mailov, a local millionaire, who had grown to admire Nezhdanova’s voice during her tour decided to use this opportunity and offered her to revisit Baku in one year to attend the opening of a new opera theatre, which he would order to build in her honour.
Relax in the Fountain Square, a popular area for eating, drinking and chilling.
Visit the International Mugam Center, the center of Azerbaijani arts and music aimed to promote, preserve and popularize specific genre of Azerbaijani music, Mugam. In March the center hosts International Mugam Festival, and throughout the year organizes many concerts aiming to bring people closer to this unique kind of music.
Mingle with the locals at the Boulevard. It is rguably the heart of the city. It’s difficult to belive that only some 10 years ago this piece of shore smelled of sewage and was heavily polluted by oil and debris, and scrap materials floating in the water. Thanks to the government’s environmental program most of this has been cleared and today Bakuvians can enjoy strolls by the sea as they did in early 20th Century. Boulevard is full of exotic flowers and trees, both local and Azeri restaurants, and has one of the largest shopping centers in the city.
Boulevard in early 2000s
Listen to a concert at the State Philharmonic Hall. The building, constructed throughout 1910-1912, was inspired by the architectural style of buildings within the Monte Carlo Casino.
Lahic is a village located in the Ismailli region approximately 1211m above sea level.
The village is one of the most ancient settlements in Azerbaijan
It has a population of about 930 people
The soaring peaks that surround this village make farming impossible, so local people turned very long ago to crafts
Lahic is renowned for its handicraft traditions, especially the production of arms and copper items
A Lahic coppersmith
A handicraft shop in Lahic
Almost everyone who lives here can turn shapeless things into objects of quiet and even mystic beauty Source:The NY Times. Lahic Journal; From Splendid Isolation, Treasures for the World
The Lahic people are usually bilingual – they speak Lahiji language and Azeri
The language suggests that the first settlers on this spectacularly beautiful but forbidding cliff were of Persian descent. Nothing more is known about their background or why they chose to come here, though they evidently placed great value on solitude. Source: The NY Times. Lahic Journal; From Splendid Isolation, Treasures for the World
The village has a well developed sewerage system and architecture adapted to frequent earthquakes in the area